A quick history of the city of Zagreb

Before heading to the Croatian capital, you may want to brush up on your history to have an idea of how this city came to be. Where did Croatia originate from? Who decided Zagreb was the perfect spot for the capital of this country? There are so many questions – and we have some answers.

Knowing a brief history of a city before visiting makes it more interesting to see the cultural attractions and the historical sights. Still, it provides a sense of story and background to an already beautiful and interesting society.

Old Zagreb


Zagreb – By By Nick Savchenko from Kiev, Ukraine – Zagreb, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66690098

The story begins with “Old Zagreb,” a civilization on a hill consisting of two distinct sections – Gradec and Kaptol. Gradec, also known as Gornji Grad, Upper town, or Donji Grad, is a part of Zagreb and forms half of the capital city’s medieval center. The other section, Kaptol, is a portion of the Upper Town and the current seat of the Roman Catholic archbishop of Zagreb.

With two unique and separated sections of the city, there were interesting characters that comprised each area.


Kaptol Zagreb – By By Suradnik13 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4706502

The Kaptol settlement was first documented in 1094 when Ladislaus of Hungary founded the diocese in Zagreb. In 1334, the canons of Zagreb established a serf colony, which was the beginning of the present-day civilization on Nova Ves Street. 

Kaptol or originally had no fortifications – the section of the Upper Town was enclosed and protected with a palisade, a stakewall that was continuously destroyed during the war and rebuilt during times of peace. 


Zagreb Gornji grad – By By Suradnik13 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4951264

The other section of the Upper Town and Old Zagreb section is Gradec, a civilization Bela IV of Hungary gave a royal charter to in 1242. Gradec was surrounded by defensive walls and towers, anticipating an invasion from the Tatar people from Turkey.

The focal point and epicenter of the Gradec section are St. Mark’s Square, with St. Mark’s church in the middle of the square. St. Mark’s Church is one of the oldest architectural structures in Zagreb, with the south facade providing evidence this building was built in potentially the 13th century. In the second half of the 14th century, the church was reconstructed to form a Gothic style. 

14th and 15th Centuries

Turkish Croatia – By By Unknown author – This image is available from the Digital Library of Slovenia under the reference number DZBYBVI3This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11043911

During the 14th and 15th centuries, the two warring hilltop administrations, Gradec and Kaptol, sought to protect their own interests – whether personal, economic, or political. The Bishops in charge of Kaptol would ban the entire community of Gradec, which resulted in Kaptol being burned and looted by Gradec’s angry citizens. 

In the middle of the 15th century, the Turks began slowly invading the region, encouraging the bishops to fortify their civilizations.

16th Century

Migration of the serbians – By By Paja Jovanović (1859–1957) – Paja Jovanović, Muzej grada Beograda, 1970; p. 32, PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3496620

By the mid 16th century, the walls surrounding the fortresses were completed. Unfortunately, the Turks had already taken over much of the surrounding territory – however, they could not form a stronghold over Gradec or Kaptol. During this century, Zagreb emerged as the Croatian State’s capital, even though the entire country was under attack by the Turks. 

17th Century

St Catherines Church Zagreb Croatia – By By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32424173

The following century saw many old buildings damaged during war or degraded due to old age be reconstructed and rebuilt. In 1606, the Jesuits brought the Baroque architecture style to Zagreb and imprinted their unique style in the southeastern corner. The Jesuits built St. Catherine’s Church and their monastery in Jesuit Square. 

The second order in Gradec was the Capuchins, a religious order of Franciscan friars settled in Zagreb’s southwestern part. The friars restored the St. Mary’s Church and erected present-day parks and playgrounds.

Along with other architectural elements added to Zagreb’s cityscape during this century, new marketplaces and fairgrounds were constructed to form new business and encouraging further economic interest.

18th Century

Mandusevac – By Autor I, SpeedyGonsales, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2492745

During the 18th century, various houses were built on the northern and eastern sides of the Mandusevac, connecting the Mandusevac section to the Upper City. This street would eventually become one of the busiest streets in the city.

19th Century

Tinted postcard of Ban Jelacic Square – By By Unknown – https://web.archive.org/web/20160913095142/http://www.balkanforum.info/f16/ehemals-tuerkische-balkan-zivilisiert-wurde-241364/index2.html, PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7639174

Much of the building of Donji Grad, downtown Zagreb, took place during the 19th century. The first railway line connecting Zagreb with Zidani was opened in 1862, with gasworks built the following year. These railways spurred the old suburbs to merge with the new city’s construction, encouraging economic movement and increased diversity. 

20th Century

Zagreb at night – By By User:Jajaniseva – User:Jajaniseva – self-made, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2082889

Although there has been documentation about Donji Grad’s construction in the 19th century, there is little record of the Art Noveau construction that occurred in the following century. However, we do know the century began with this architectural style from 1899 until World War I. 

In 1902, the city’s boundary was moved east of Eugen Kvaternik Square. The interwar period between WWI and WWII saw extensive development, with pavilions constructed, halls erected, and zoning plans formulated during this multi-year period. 

During the 1920s, Zagreb’s population increased by a whopping 70% due to the quick building of architecture, industrialism, and job opportunities. 

In the 1930s, functionalism became a staple of architecture. ‘Functionalism’ is the idea that buildings should be constructed based on efficiency and functionality, not on style or aesthetics. During this time period, the building flourished, and Zagreb became established as an industrial center.